On July 2nd 1976 I was at Machu Picchu. I was making a second visit, having been there at the beginning of the year.
The trip started out in much the same way: the train to Aguas Calientes, the hotel by the railway track, only this time it was the dry season and the river, although still spectacular, was much lower and well behaved. However conversation in the hotel was about politics, not the easy talk of fiesta-time Cuzco: it seemed that the right-wing was active nationally.
In the morning I walked along the railway track, through the tunnels, and up the steep direct path. I realised I could carry my shoulder bag from my forehead using the strap as a tumpline in the local fashion, which made climbing easier. I started to look around the ruins while it was early, the houses and arches and brickwork, the way some things were built into the rocks, the temple with three windows, the sundial and execution block. The atmosphere changed abruptly when a red helicopter approached and came to land on the grassy area in the middle of the site, quite close to where I was. I retreated far enough to be out of the way. A military man, air force I think, got out and went to meet another man in full uniform who came from the hotel. After the talk the helicopter flew away again. There weren't many present on the site, as it was before the arrival of the tourist train, but it certainly set a mood. Whispers were going around and people said there'd been a coup. A workman came up to talk to me in Spanish and told me how happy he was, the revolution had gone wrong (he meant Velasco's revolution of 1968), and now the peasants were doing all the suffering.
|Terraces at Machu Picchu: My picture, taken in 1986|
When the tourists started to arrive soon after, I took myself away, not up Huayna Picchu this time, but over to the terraces on the far side away from the road and the railway station. I walked along the trail towards the Inca Bridge where a log could be taken off a gap in the Inca Road to deny access. I wanted to be away from the tourists and their chatter and cameras, I wanted to be away from red helicopters and ugly roads serpentining up the hill. Over by the terraces and the bridge I could see why the place worked and I knew this was where I wanted to be at the moment.
There were plenty of rumours of a coup over the next few weeks while I was in Peru, talk of shootings in Lima and so on, but I did not discover anything much for another two months until I was on a cross-channel ferry from Ostend to Dover. I met an Australian who said he had a friend who had been a journalist in Peru at the time; it had been a coup, he said, but a palace coup: the president Morales Bermudez, who had taken over from Velasco because of Velasco's ill health a year previously, had not been overthrown, he had just changed his direction from left-wing to right-wing.